In the Cut
review by KJ Doughton, 3 October 2003

In the Cut is a grungy murder mystery bathed in the yellowing, unhealthy glow of jaundiced skin.  A sleazy cousin of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, director Jane Campion’s thriller explores a bored literature professor’s flirtations with sex and danger in New York City. 

And who more unlikely to escort us through this crusty, Big Apple barrel bottom of strip clubs, bars, and dreary apartments than America’s Sweetheart, Meg Ryan?  The screen’s favorite bright-eyed blonde has come to define perkiness through her too-cute-for-words appearances in such light comedy soufflés as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.  In a startling re-invention both convincing and a little sad, Ryan forever crushes her good-girl image by sauntering through In the Cut sans pep, makeup, and – in many scenes – clothes. The effect is a bit jarring, like walking in on Mary Poppins as she’s stepping out of a shower.

In the Cut introduces us to Franny Thorstin (Ryan), a lit instructor in her late thirties who is infatuated with the written word.  Her eyes hunt down snippets of poetry scrawled on a subway, and she even has a mess of those trendy "word magnets" strewn across her apartment door. 

One evening, out for a beer with a student at the Red Turtle Bar, Franny eyes two patrons doing the nasty in a dark corner.  In an unlikely bit of superhuman observation, the teacher identifies both a tiny, spade-shaped tattoo on the wrist of the male "receiver," and blue fingernails on the female "giver," even from several yards away and through hazy cigarette smoke.

Soon afterwards, Franny meets Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), a young police detective with a very blunt style of wordplay.  He alerts Franny to news that a killer is loose, one who "disarticulates" women.  The last victim had blue fingernails. The killer was accompanying her at the Red Turtle prior to the murder.  Meanwhile, Franny’s anxiety is notched up another level when she notices the spade-shaped tattoo on Malloy’s wrist.   

Is Malloy the "disarticulator?"  That possibility isn’t enough to scare Franny off when the detective asks her out.  In fact, she quickly invites him into her bed. Malloy might be a disarticulator, but if so, he’s an articulate disarticulator, which turns Franny on.  Soliloquies and stab-wounds, anyone?

Ultimately, In the Cut stumbles into the same goofy limbo as other pretentious films attempting to deal with the seductive pull of dangerous sex. Films like Cruising, 9 ½ Weeks, Eyes Wide Shut, and Sea of Love.  Director Campion, who explored a similarly passion-drunk heroine in 1993’s The Piano, seems intent on revealing that a night in the sack with a Bad Boy is the ultimate female aphrodisiac. Could be. But even so, would a smart, savvy New Yorker like Franny really throw all caution to the wind for Ruffalo, who plays his hard-boiled Cassanova with the sleaze-coated bravado of fellow smooth-talker Mickey Rourke?  "The only thing I won’t do is beat you up," this considerate scuzzball promises.  He’s certainly not Tom Hanks.

Supporting characters, like a lit student obsessed with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, serve no purpose.  Kevin Bacon stumbles in as Franny’s ex, a twitchy, scruffy, dog-walking beach bum ready to go postal.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is along for the ride as the professor’s slutty sister, suggesting to Franny that she should date Malloy, "just for the exercise."  None of these backup characters are particularly interesting or compelling, as they take up space on Franny’s downer of a joy ride.

Ryan is game for the lead role, appearing both hungry for escape and weary of life, like a depressive passively stoned on Prozac.  Her light curls are replaced with straight brown locks. And while Ryan’s elfin mouth still juts north at both corners, she tries her best to look jaded, sullen, and melancholy. 

In the end, however, In the Cut is like a failed surgical procedure. Pieces don’t fit where they’re supposed to, parts remain missing, and there’s a sad deficit of vitality.  Campion’s no quack, but In the Cut is a confused, flatlined film.

Directed by:
Jane Campion

Meg Ryan,
Mark Ruffalo
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Kevin Bacon

Written by:
Jane Campion 
Suzanne Moore

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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